Irving Waugh, a veteran broadcaster who was instrumental in gaining national television exposure for country music during the ’50s and ’60s, died Friday (April 27) in Nashville following a lengthy illness. A native of Danville, Va., he was 94.
Waugh was also a key player in the creation of Fan Fair, the Opryland Hotel and the Opryland theme park in Nashville.
Born Irving Cambridge Waugh Jr., he left high school following his sophomore year and worked throughout the world as a seaman on a tramp freighter. Returning to Virginia, he enrolled in Old Dominion College and became involved in the theater in Virginia, Georgia and New York state. Waugh used his theatrical training to begin his broadcasting career at CBS Radio in New York City.
Waugh worked as a radio announcer and newsman in Norfolk and Roanoke, Va., before joining the staff of Nashville radio station WSM in 1941. His work at WSM, an NBC radio affiliate, led to a job with the network. During the final months of World War II, he served as one of NBC’s news correspondents in the Philippines, Okinawa and Japan.
Following the war, Waugh returned to Nashville as a member of WSM’s sales staff. When WSM’s parent company, the National Life & Accident Insurance Company, launched WSM-TV in 1950, he was named station manager and sales manager for both the radio and TV operations. He became WSM’s vice president for television in 1958.
In 1952, Waugh started the Grand Ole Opry Birthday Celebration to help promote WSM’s flagship radio show. The event later influenced the creation of the annual Disc Jockey Convention and the Country Music Association. In 1955, Waugh sold the Ralston-Purina Company a series of one-hour Grand Ole Opry specials. The ABC-TV telecasts were the first to bring the Opry to a national television audience.
At the request of the CMA, Waugh and Tree Publishing founder Jack Stapp secured sponsorship and exposure on NBC-TV for the CMA Awards, the first music awards of any kind to be nationally televised. Waugh served as executive producer of the show until 1993.
After being promoted to president of WSM Inc. in 1968, Waugh began planning the design and construction of the Grand Ole Opry House and the Opryland Hotel and theme park. In 1974, the Opry moved from its longtime home at the Ryman Auditorium to the new venue.
In 1972, Waugh helped lead plans by the CMA and the Grand Ole Opry in establishing Fan Fair, a multi-day festival aimed at solidifying the relationship between country music fans and artists. The event is now known as the CMA Music Festival.
After retiring as president of WSM Inc. in 1977, Waugh was appointed commissioner of tourist development for the state of Tennessee. He was a longtime board member of the CMA and the Country Music Foundation.
Funeral services will be held Tuesday (May 1) at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Nashville.
Waugh was preceded in death by his wife of 70 years, Jean Hunt Waugh. His survivors include two sons and three grandchildren.